Supply Bill

29 Jun 2010 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the government priorities in terms of funding and the Supply Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (17:44): I rise to speak on the Supply Bill and to make a few comments about government priorities in terms of funding, particularly as we head toward this late delivered budget, as the Hon. Jing Lee has mentioned. We have warning signals that it will be a tough budget, and my concerns, in particular, are for the current environment departments, that is, the Department for Environment and Heritage, DWLBC, the natural resource management boards and the EPA, and I will throw PIRSA in there as well because it has some responsibilities in environment-related issues.

DEH has a number of responsibilities. One that I believe is at threat is the Adelaide Gaol. It has been an issue of some concern to me over the years that it has been neglected and not provided with adequate funding, and, indeed, the volunteers who have been able to raise funds that were applied back to managing the gaol have been excluded from the process on the spurious grounds of occupational health and safety.

DEH also has responsibility for biodiversity and animal and plant species. Biodiversity is an issue that is very close to my heart. Had we been elected and had I been the environment minister we would have implemented a biodiversity act. Under this government, biodiversity has gone backwards, and we have seen an increase in land use contributing to that, particularly into the future with the advent of the 30-Year Plan.

Premier Rann in 2002 pledged to 'save our native species', and we are aware that the number of threatened species has increased from 1041 in 2000 to 1143 in 2008. That includes reptiles, birds, mammals and plants, and six more amphibian species have been added to the list of threatened species. We believe that a biodiversity act would put the issue of where habitats need to be protected as front and centre as putting the horse in front of the cart, if you like, so that we can identify what it is that we want to protect, rather than the current ad hoc approach that we have through a number of different agencies.

While on that topic of the number of agencies, we do have a range of different agencies. The Liberal Party has long warned that the natural resources management boards would be overly bureaucratic and would duplicate a number of roles that are already performed by other departments, and that they would become an end in themselves. We have seen that. I was even at a function on Friday night where a particular conservation volunteer was lamenting the natural resources management boards as pretty ineffectual in terms of actually getting anything done. They produce a lot of reports, but they frustrate a lot of people. I do not hold it against any of the people who work in the system; I think it is actually the system and not the people. There are a number of very passionate people who are staff members of those boards.

Another of our election commitments was that we would ensure that all of the proceeds of the solid waste levy would be provided for the purposes of waste reduction and the $5 million that the Treasurer stole from the Waste to Resources Fund in 2007, when the government decided to unilaterally double the solid waste levy, would come from general revenue, thereby providing the EPA with a firmer source of its own funds, rather than having to chase funds through fines and so forth.

Heritage is a particular area which is, I think, under a huge amount of threat from this government. The National Trust of South Australia did receive some recurrent funding from the government. It now receives none. It has 5000 volunteers around the state who perform all sorts of valuable contributions to looking after our heritage and history. They now get no funding whatsoever from the government, and I think they themselves put out a regular Our Heritage at Risk list. I think the National Trust, unfortunately, is at risk because it receives no funding.

I note that there was a recent survey done of councils across South Australia by the Sunday Mail, which found that almost half of our 66 councils have no heritage lists or registers to protect buildings of local significance. A former minister for environment conservation, the Hon. John Hill, did put out the Heritage Directions document and made some changes to the act, and I think he understood that local councils struggle to do their heritage surveys. Particularly for smaller councils, it is not exactly at the top of their list.

Funding was provided in 2005—and, on average, it was about $145,000—to assist local government with their surveys. That has dropped to $80,000 this financial year, and I note that the heritage branch of DEH has shrunk and has been allowed to wither on the vine. It has become a bit of a timid talk group of late, because this government clearly has no interest in heritage.

We have had the interim listing of Union Hall, and we are all waiting with bated breath to see whether that will continue. I congratulate Mr Marcus Beresford of the National Trust, who has sought to have one of the buildings—the nurses home—in the Glenside campus listed, and it has received interim listing. While I am on the subject of congratulating the National Trust, I would like to congratulate Mr David Beaumont on his recent election as its new chairman, and I thank Anita Aspinall for her service over many years to that fantastic organisation.

This government has not proclaimed any state heritage areas since 2002. In our policy, we are proposing that there be a more transparent procedure for the management of state-owned heritage buildings and a review of the nomination procedures to encourage greater community involvement. We are also interested in considering establishing a charitable trust along the lines of MINT Inc, which operates in Victoria, or the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, which would provide an up-front amount of capital to restore properties and ensure that they were not lost to the community forever. So, I would encourage the government, if it has any concern about heritage, to take up some of our suggestions. It has seen fit to steal our policies on many occasions, and it should do so again.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: And then they botch them on things like the oval.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Well, they do botch them on things like the oval, to the point that the Adelaide Oval—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Some people have a habit of botching a supply speech. You might want to stick to the Supply Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I apologise, Mr President. Seeing as we are talking about heritage and the loss of heritage, I had to respond to that interjection, but I do appreciate that it is out of order.

There is also the issue of animal welfare, which falls under DEH's responsibilities. That, again, is under threat. The poor RSPCA lost that case, which was quite devastating for it and for the sector in general. I think we need to have a full and open inquiry about how that took place and we need to ensure that that is never allowed to happen again in future. I suspect that the RSPCA needs either more resources or greater assistance in terms of the collection of evidence, and so forth. However, I urge the minister to make open that process so that we can all learn from it in future.

The Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation will also be abolished. A large part of it will become part of the new water department, but the particular areas for which I hold concerns are biosecurity, the River Murray and native vegetation. I have already spoken briefly about natural resources management.

In terms of natural resources management, we have a huge issue with weeds and pest species at the moment. A number of our Liberal country members hold concerns about rabbits and mice, and those sorts of creatures, which can be quite devastating on our crops. Again, greater strategies are needed, not only for our farming communities but for our native animals and plants, to ensure that there is no cut to contributions from the government.

There has been concern expressed publicly. I have had a few bits and pieces from departments, but some people have been prepared to speak on the public record. I note, in particular, that the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden and the Lenswood Research Centre have been singled out as areas of considerable concern in that future funding cuts could threaten their survival. Again, we have the issue of botanic gardens and the numerous volunteers who provide hours of their time for the love of what they do, and I think it would be a travesty if the government were to cut back on the staffing side of that.

I would like to say a little bit about water and climate change issues. Again, referring to the recent election, I urge the government to stop being such a dog in a manger about the issue of bringing stormwater up to drinkable standard. I think it is about the only stakeholder in this debate who continues to oppose the reclamation of stormwater for potable purposes. I note that the Water Commissioner, as recently as 2 May, was saying that it could not be done. The CSIRO is obviously in favour of it, and I would put more stock in what it has to say than the Water Commissioner. Quite frankly, I am not quite sure what her qualifications are. I think they are dubious.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: Former Labor candidate.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: We should not necessarily hold that against her, but I am not sure that she has any great academic qualifications in water, so I would not put a lot of stock in what she has to say.

SA Water is clearly not in favour of stormwater harvesting. I note from the required sector agreement in relation to climate change that they have completely ignored the issue of stormwater. SA Water is an interesting agency in terms of climate change, given that it accounts for the same amount of energy as every other government department and administrative unit. They estimate that their direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions range between 400,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in any year to 700,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in a severe drought.

I say this because—again, this comes back to part of our policies and stormwater harvesting, being much more carbon friendly than a desalination plant and other ways of producing and treating water—they could save themselves lot if they were to desist from having the 100 gigalitre plant and revert to the Liberals' policy of a 50 gigalitre plant. The means by which they are to reduce their emissions, which they are required to do through this agreement, are a little fuzzy, I have to say.

Their strategies include contributing to the 20 per cent renewable energy target through the self-generation of renewable and purchased energy, purchasing 25,000 tonnes of accredited offsets ( I must say that offsets really ought to be the last resort for any energy abatement) and maintaining major pumping efficiency improvements, although I am not sure what 'maintaining' means. I would have had more confidence if they had said something a little bit more ambitious and more like they were trying, rather than just maintaining what they were doing at the moment.

The next strategy is to continue a program of targeted revegetation for carbon capture—this does not have any figure attached to it, so one wonders whether it is being quantified—and maintaining the Hope Valley mini hydroelectric facility, but there is no detail as to how they intend to do that. They have provided quite a comprehensive chart about how their emissions will increase if there are no efforts to reduce them.

In the first scenario, uncontrolled emissions would lead to approximately 300 per cent above the 1990 baseline levels for the period 2012-18. If they are to change the way they are doing business, then that would be significantly reduced, according to this chart.

However, they state that they will 'adopt a Kyoto aligned target'—and I find that quite unspecific and not very useful. SA Water is the largest user of energy in this state and it really needs to provide a much more specific document in terms of exactly how it intends to reduce its emissions. It consists of some 14 pages, and there is not a lot of quantification of usage, strategy or specifics to provide any comfort.

That leads into the issue of what I believe includes a number of claims that the Premier often makes here and abroad about climate change. I spoke very briefly last week in a grieve about how he had been caught out in his renewable energy targets. One of the areas which I think is ignored in the whole climate change debate is the potential for captured carbon storage. The Wentworth group of scientists has written to a number of us—I am not sure whether other members received it—and has produced a document.

There are very significant amounts of carbon which can be stored, which I find quite exciting. On searching through the government's website and its documents there is absolutely no reference to soil carbon sequestration at all. This document, entitled 'Optimising carbon in the Australian landscape: how to guide the terrestrial carbon market to deliver multiple economic and environmental benefits', states that a 15 per cent increase in the world's terrestrial carbon stock would remove the equivalent of all carbon pollution emitted from fossil fuels since the beginning—

The PRESIDENT: Order, the honourable member. I doubt whether 15 per cent of this speech so far has been in relation to the Supply Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: With respect, I have been talking about budget cuts and funding priorities.

The PRESIDENT: You might want to do that under the Appropriation Bill or something like that but the Supply Bill is all to do with the supply of money to the Public Service. Perhaps you might want to get back to that.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Perhaps I could frame it in terms of what public servants should be directed to be looking at.

The PRESIDENT: To be fair to the honourable member, she is not the only one who has gone totally off the track with a speech on the Supply Bill. I want to advise members, before we do the next Supply Bill up the track, that they might want to go and get some idea about what their speeches should be about and how it relates to supply. Really, there is not a lot of longwindedness in a Supply Bill speech because it is very specific, unlike the Appropriation Bill. Carry on.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Thank you, Mr President. Indeed, these would be very useful things for the Premier (the minister for climate change) to be asking his officers to be examining.

The last points that I wish to make are in relation to the federal budget impacts and how they will play through to our state. A number of programs which were providing funding to South Australian agencies have been cut, which I believe will have an impact in South Australia. In particular, I would like to mention the Caring for Our Country program which came under the auspices of a couple of other names in a former life. That has been cut by $81.3 million, so that is going to have a direct impact on biodiversity and natural heritage.

We have also seen the scrapping of the solar rebate scheme, the scrapping of rebates for water tanks and the scrapping of $249 million from cities to recycle their water, and they will have a particular impact on us as well.

The Renewable Energy Future Fund, which I am sure the South Australian government hopes to avail itself of, will receive $652 million over four years. That will assist in renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and biomass. Overall, I think the poor old environment departments are in for a big hit. It is something that I am very concerned about.

A number of public servants have been contacting us to let us know of areas which they think are in direct threat, including park rangers who have retired from their positions but are not being replaced, particularly in remote areas where they have been heretofore ensuring that things such as the Ediacaran fossils are not being raided—there is no longer anybody to do that job as they are quietly not being replaced. With those comments, I commend the public servants for doing what they do and we on this side of the chamber have sympathy for the cuts that they are about to undergo and the rough treatment from this ungreen-friendly Rann Labor government.